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Listen in on History: Untold stories of African American experience in Austin preserved in oral history project

Gary Bledsoe: Interview Transcript

The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past
Dr. Martha Norkunas, Project Director

African American Texans
Oral History Project

Interviewee: Gary L. Bledsoe

Interviewer: Naoko Kato

Date of Interview: February 24, 2004

Place: W24th Street, Austin, Texas

Recording Format: Digital Voice Recorder, Olympus .dss format

Transcriber: Naoko Kato

Questions developed by Erin Murphy, Summer, 2006

1) Segregation in Schools/ Brown v. Board of Education, Desegregation and Integration of Schools

How did Mr. Bledsoe experience racism while attending a segregated school in the 1960s? How was his school different from the white schools in terms of what it could offer? What happened in the Texas school system after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954?

Running Time: 4min 52 sec

GB: I graduated high school in the 70s, early 70s.

NK: So how about your school?

GB: Things have changed. I don't think it'd be the same nowadays, but I actually thought I got an extremely good education, providing the circumstances. We had hand me down books. In other words, when I got a book, it was the first time our school would get a book, frequently. But there would no signature plates for me, for my name in front of the book, because it was a "hand me down" from one of the white schools across town. So we usually had hand me down books. Our lab equipment was just incredibly, or woefully inferior to the labs across town. So in science and things like that, we didn't have the things to learn. We had a great ROTC program. We had a great shop where you could learn, if you wanted to do body work or mechanic work, we had better than across town. But anything that was academic, we didn't have. We didn't have a debate team, so we couldn't debate. We had a spelling bee and I won the spelling bee in my school, but they wouldn't allow me to compete because the teachers in my school were afraid that I would win. I actually could spell very well. And so, that always left a real lasting impression on me, that people were that afraid that a Black guy was likely to win. My sister had won the science competition a year or two before me, and she was given second place. So we were all really upset over that. Because it was obvious--if you saw her display and the other girl's display--she was far superior. It was the same general theme, but my sister's was put together much better and was a much tighter presentation. But anyway, she got second place so it was just one of these things, when you grew up in that era, you could not give accolades to the African American. I had some really good teachers. I don't like the fact that many were afraid, they didn't want me to go forward, like with the spelling bee. But I had some really good teachers that taught good values, that were concerned about you. Teachers that, when they used corporal punishment, except you know maybe one was not, but usually they all did it with your best interests at heart. And so, we had teachers that were concerned about you becoming a good citizen. That was all good, and you know things were a lot different because we knew who the bad actors were, and though we didn't talk down to folks or what have you, you knew who not to hang with and things of that nature. Everyone knew who the bad actors were. It wasn't--bad actors were not exalted the way that many bad actors are today.

NK: Officially, the Voting Rights Act was in 1965.

GB: That's correct.

NK: Schools had been desegregated. [Schools were desegregated by law after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Voting Rights Act directly addressed segregation at the polls.]

GB: No they hadn't.

NK: Officially.

GB: The laws were there.

NK: The laws were there.

GB: The laws were there, but in Texas they didn't even try to comply with the law. In 1966, they shut down the Black school in my hometown, and merged it with the brown school. The white schools you could go to by choice. They'd all implemented a choice program. Like in Austin, they did something similar and minor to that in 1971. Austin didn't get full desegregation until 1979. My old school district didn't get full desegregation until I believe it was 1983. Most of the South fought desegregation. So, when we had Brown v. Board to come down, you had this flurry of new school districts to be created, school districts that were created where there were no Blacks living within the geographical boundaries, or no Hispanics living within the geographical boundaries, so they wouldn't be forced to have their kids go to school with minorities. So in Texas now, we have what, 254 counties and about 1200 school districts or so? It's pretty enormous, the number of school districts. But that's why we have the school districts. You look in some counties like Gray County, their county just has innumerable school districts that they don't need to have, and that's really the reason why many of them were born, was for reasons of race. So I won't concede that point--that may have been, Brown v. Board may have been handed down in '54, but we did not have desegregation at all, in Texas.

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